European wood panel industry scales up end-of-life recycling and circular use of recovered wood
Horizon Europe project EcoReFibre explores smart sorting and processing technologies to recycle post-consumer waste wood back into fibreboards and into novel building products.
Five highly promising pilots with leading panel manufacturers are launched to demonstrate how Circular Economy approaches linked with innovative, digital-supported technologies will enable security of raw material supplies.
EcoReFibre’s aim is to increase available wood resources in Europe.
Reducing the dependency from both fossil-based resources and from international raw material markets is becoming critically important to European policies, following the growing concern about global economic impacts of Russia’s war against Ukraine.
The European Green Deal was set as the new industrial policy to tackle climate change, by fostering sustainable, circular products, reduced waste and increased energy performance.
In the new emerging global order, the green transformation will moreover also play a key role to ensure a strong domestic supply of materials and energy from renewable sources.
Fibreboards are engineered wood panels, which are widely used in furniture, interior design and construction.
Europe is leader in fibreboard production, which reaches a worldwide production of over 100 million cubic metres per year.
The market success of dry process fibreboards, particularly medium density fibreboard (MDF), leads to huge quantities of fibreboard waste being generated every year.
Today, there is no commercially viable method to recycle post-consumer fibreboard into new fibreboards.
Consequently, fibreboards are made mostly from refined virgin wood, i.e. wood harvested from the forest and processing residues from sawmills and plywood manufacture.
Secondly, despite the industry’s capability to incorporate recycled wood in the manufacture of particleboard, there are still large amounts of waste wood that continue to be burnt or even landfilled, contradicting the principles of a circular economy.
With a 12 million EUR grant from the European Commission’s Horizon Europe programme, the project will run from May 2022 until April 2026.
The consortium comprises 20 partner organisations in 7 countries, including leading panel producers and equipment manufacturers.
The project team held their kickoff meeting from May 18 to 19, 2022, in Uppsala, Sweden.
“The EcoReFibre project will explore a cascade concept to recover raw materials from waste fibreboard, which will then become available for remanufacture of industrial products”, says project coordinator Stergios Adamopoulos of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
With enhanced sorting equipment, fibreboards will be extracted from the wood waste stream, which can then be processed to generate secondary raw materials of fibres and fines of defined quality.
The ambitious goal is to substitute up to 25% of the virgin fibres used in the manufacture of new fibreboard by secondary recovered fibres.
The innovative technologies used include a smart sorting machine, an impact reactor and improvements to existing TMP refiners (thermo-mechanical process). The different end-products to be tested include particleboard, biocomposite construction blocks and CTB (cyclic thin board), new MDF and HDF (high density fibreboard), and insulation products (flexible board, hardboard, bulk insulation).
The project carries out a detailed market study to determine the current and future availability of waste MDF as a basis to upscale recycling business activities in Europe.
“Solid market data are necessary in order to give investors the confidence to invest in the machinery and processes being developed by EcoReFibre”, says Dr. Mark Irle, Senior Researcher at Ecole Supérieure du Bois, Nantes, France.
The environmental and social impacts and benefits of these novel technologies will also be analysed in detail from a life-cycle perspective.
The industry-led pilot demonstrations will be developed into solid business cases that increase the return on investment and create economic value, entrepreneurship, and new employment.
By fostering a broad dissemination and exploitation of all tangible results, the project targets a wide uptake of the approved solutions in the European wood panel industrial sector.